KYOTO — Enter the little shop in Kyoto’s Higashiyama Ward and the world unfolds through sound — the sounds collected around the world, such as ice melting off a glacier, snarling Bangkok traffic, beetles mating, a rhinoceros breaking wind and the silence of a Patagonian plain interrupted by a flying insect.
Such sounds were among the repertoire that an elderly American couple tuned in to recently at the shop Otokinoko (literally, sound mushrooms) on Ninenzaka street, one of the main tourist approaches to Kiyomizu Temple.
Visitors can sample some of the 52 different CDs and CD-ROMs, each offering four to five sound categories, by donning headphones attached to mushroom-inspired units equipped with video screens. The CDs, videos and DVDs range in price from 600 yen to 3,900 yen.
“I wanted to offer the many sounds I consider interesting,” said Kazumichi Fujiwara, who recorded all the sounds to be had at the shop. “Although I wasn’t sure how people would react, their keen interest was beyond my expectations.”
The shop, which opened in April, sometimes sees more than 1,000 visitors a day.
Fujiwara, a 58-year old sound expert, said he was surprised to see so many people intrigued by a recording he made on a vast, virtually silent grassy plain in Patagonia.
“When I did the recording on the plain, hardly any sound could be heard, although the recording volume was set to the maximum. Then a small insect flew by. The insect sound captured the vastness and quiet of the plain,” he said.
Not only does Fujiwara bedazzle his listeners with the unique sounds he has captured, but his skilled technique allows them to feel as if they are actually on location.
“Listening to the sound of Patagonia, for instance, you can almost feel a light breeze on your cheek,” he said. Many visitors agree that some of the sounds from the CDs seem to appeal to their five senses, according to Fujiwara. “We hear sound not only with our ears but by using all of our senses.”
To make people more aware of this, he said, he wants to show other ways of experiencing sound, such as through the sense of touch.
Fujiwara has been doing sound-related work since 1968, when he gave his first sound performance. Over the years, he has honed his technique, managing to duplicate sounds as if they were originals. He lived in Italy from 1976 to 1989, where he became fascinated by the way Italians enjoy various sounds.
“I found it very interesting to see Italians laughing when they listened to the sound of beans popping in a frying pan,” he recalled. “On an airplane flying back to Japan, I was determined to make people laugh through sound by appealing to our five senses.”
Fujiwara hopes to expand the shop’s sound collection, but the recording work is always hard. For instance, he had to wait in a zoo 20 days from morning to evening to capture five seconds of an elephant breaking wind.
Although he has done location hunting to record various sounds, he said he prefers an “accidental encounter.”
“It is always the case that the first sound I hear is everything,” he said. “Although the risk of failing to record it properly is high, I think an accidental encounter with a sound has a great impact on the people who hear it.”
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